Solving the Seventies

7 12 2008

This is a post that I have wanted to do for approximately three minutes. I am now desperate to share my knowledge on this colourful subject! I can’t hold it in any longer! My brain is full of twists, turns, algorithms… You may have worked out by now that I am talking about Erno Rubik’s six-sided, six-coloured puzzle cube, more commonly known as the Rubik’s Cube. The menace of a brain-bender that has been full of stress, anger and annoyance for the past 34 years, with only a select few being able to solve it. Then came Rubik’s Revenge, the 4x4x4 sequel to the originally-named “Magic Cube”. This was even more of a challenge; even more combinations of colours were possible: 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (43 quintillion) combinations were possible on the previous version compared to 7,401,196,841,564,901,869,874,093,974,498,574,336,000,000,000 (7,401 septillion) on this new menace.

But then, after all of this, the minority group who could solve even just the original Rubik’s Cube began to realise that other people wished to know how to complete the puzzle. There were, of course, the two ways of cheating. First, peeling off the stickers and putting them back on in the correct places. However, there were consumers who had purchased wooden cubes, with painted sides rather than its plastic counterpart. This was not a simple case of scraping the paint off and painting the colours back on. It would be too easy to tell the difference. So then came the second way of “solving” the cube: taking the pieces apart and fixing them back in the correct positions. Nearly everyone knew about these two ways, but they didn’t want to cheat anymore. They wanted to be the clever so-and-sos who could solve it the intended way, by turning the faces to rearrange the colours. But they couldn’t do it without help. They needed the original clever so-and-sos.

How could they get this knowledge? By word of mouth was the first option; but this only helped if you knew someone who could solve it. Then there were books, magazines and other printed articles. This was more useful because you didn’t need to live within twenty miles of the author. On the other hand, it was hard to use written instructions to complete a visual task. You needed to be able to see what the person was waffling on about. Even colour illustrations didn’t help that well. After all this came the saviour of the day: video cameras. You could film yourself talking about how to solve the cube and show it at the same time. But how to share these videos? The solution came from a website that I could probably bet my life everyone who reads this has visited. Whenever you have wanted to watch a video of something, like a funny news article or a clip of a TV programme you have missed, you could log on and find what you were looking for in an instant. Of course it’s the website where the viewer is the star, the director and the producer all rolled into one: YouTube. Videos upon videos were uploaded on the site related to the Cube. But there was one that stood out from the crowd, receiving to this day 8,365,718 views, obtaining a YouTube award and being given an average rating, over the course of 16,858 votes, of 4.5/5.

I am speaking of How to solve a Rubik’s Cube (Part 1) and its sequel, Part 2, by the one person in the entirety of the world with the username pogobat. This person is a young man of about 18, 19 from Nebraska, USA. His name is Dan Brown. He has taught those 8.3 million people to solve the cube. But why am I telling you all this? What is with the history of the Cube, and the explanation about pogobat and his videos? It is purely because I have been down that road. I have witnessed the absolute frustration of solving the green side only to find you can’t solve anything else without messing up what you have already done. I have anxiously searched for some way to find out how to solve the Cube. No-one in my close family know how to do it; I found written instructions totally useless; my only hope was YouTube. That’s where I found Dan Brown and his wonderous videos. Thanks to him, and him alone, I can now solve a Rubik’s Cube from a totally scrambled state in 2 minutes 39.41 seconds – and that’s only the beginning.

I know what you’re thinking now. “If you can solve it now, why bother keep doing it over and over? You’ve proved yourself to the world. Why carry on?”. To be honest, that’s what I thought at first. But now I realise, it’s not just about being able to do it. It’s about being able to get within a minute of the world record for the fastest time, or being able to do it without looking. And it’s about passing the knowledge on. I can now teach another person how to finish the puzzle. It’s a massive chain reaction, really: if every person teaches one other person, soon enough everyone with a scrambled Cube laying around will be able to pick it up and solve it, just like that. We will be able to prove that we can solve Erno Rubik’s 1970s big hit of the Rubik’s Cube.

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